For many travelers, the most stressful part of planning a trip is not choosing the destination, booking the tickets, finding the perfect hotel, or carving out vacation time (well, at least for us overworked Americans).  On the contrary, the most headache-inducing part of traveling can be packing for your trip.

Over the years I have personally struggled, as have friends and family, with this simple concept:  you pack it, you carry it.  There’s nothing more tiring than dragging an overstuffed suitcase through an airport while worrying that the zipper will pop and your underwear will scatter for the public to see.  In London, I helped a friend of mine take her luggage to the airport, and we were told that her bag was too heavy and she had to shift items to her carry on or throw some things away.  Granted, we entertained everyone else in the airport check-in line (at one point we were both sitting on the suitcase trying to get it to close), but it sure wasn’t fun.  When I traveled to New York City for the first time, I took one backpack and a carry on, while my fashionable friend brought two large suitcase filled to the rims with shoes and extra outfits.  Needless to say, getting all of the extra luggage to the hotel took up precious time that we could have spent scouting for New York pizza or cheesecake.

Whether taking a weekend jaunt to a nearby city or spending a few weeks in a non-English speaking country, a valuable lesson to learn is how to pack for a trip.  And by pack for a trip I don’t mean throw in half of your wardrobe or items that weigh you down so much that you risk having a hernia on your way to the beach.  Travel 101 says that how you pack for a trip should include packing effectively.

Some simple tips for how to pack effectively:

–Stick with one color scheme.  My personal preference is to stick to a black palette and mix and match from there.  For a weekend or even a longer trip, I’ll pack black pants and/or a black skirt, dark jeans, and a black sweater for chilly evenings or to layer. From there you can take an appropriate amount of shirts.  I like to take a couple of different colors of shirts, plus a necklace or statement earrings that go with everything I packed.  Black shoes, usually flats, are my go-to shoes for travel, as they go with everything, you can walk around comfortably, and they look more fashionable than sneakers.

–Wear your heaviest clothing on the airplane.  If you need to wear a coat or heavy boots while traveling, wear them on the airplane.  It will take you a couple of extra minutes to deal with them in airport security, but it will keep your bag from being heavier than needed.  Plus a coat or sweater on the airplane is not a bad idea–some people take a blanket to keep warm, but that’s another thing to haul around.  You’ll need the coat or sweater anyway, so why not use it en route to stay warm?

–Roll, roll, roll your clothes…From underwear to pants, rolling clothes, in my experience, takes up less space than folding them.  It also seems to me that rolling clothes prevents wrinkles more than folding.  If you roll clothes and place them strategically in your luggage, you’ll have more room for other things.  General rule of thumb:  the more space in your bag, the more room for souvenirs.

–Throw away as you go.  One of the oldest tricks in the book is to take items that are on the older side (note: older side, not disgusting side), use them while traveling, and throw away as you go.  This goes for underwear, socks, shoes, and other clothing items.  One of my biggest coups was taking enough clothing for an almost two month trip to South America and returning home with about a week’s worth.  Think of it this way–we all do spring cleaning, or at least most of us do, and we throw old stuff away anyways.  There’s nothing more inconvenient, or unnecessary, than having to lug around a full bag of dirty clothes.  Just don’t do it.

–Take a cue from TSA on your toiletries.  Most of us know the drill–you step up to airline security, take out your little Ziplock baggie with your liquids and toiletries in it, and accept the fact that you’re limited in how much toothpaste and shampoo you can bring on the trip.  Regardless of my destination, I try to stick to a TSA-sized bag for my toiletry items.  Usually hotels will provide some toiletries, and if you’re staying with a friend or relative they probably won’t balk at loaning you extra conditioner if you need it.  As you use up travel-sized items, throw away as you go, and see more space open up in your bag.  I’ve seen too many friends pack family-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, and so on, even if they were going away for one night (I once asked a friend who packed like this how many times she was planning to wash her hair in one evening, and a light bulb went off).  Don’t waste precious space in your bag on toiletry items that, if you need more of them, can easily be purchased in your destination or are given to you where you’re staying.

–Consider ditching the suitcase altogether.  When I spent a few weeks traveling around Asia, I took a large travel backpack and my purse.  There was no way I was going to drag my suitcase around Thailand or India and scream even more that I was a foreign tourist.  After traveling with a backpack with my clothes rolled, my Ziplock baggie of toiletries, and old pairs of underwear/socks that I could throw away as I went, I got hooked on the suitcase-free experience.  Suitcases tend to bog you down, while backpacks are easier to maneuver with.  So, on your next trip, consider taking a backpack instead of a suitcase–eventually you might see others dragging their suitcases behind them, arms awkwardly extended, and you’ll be glad you did.

Packing effectively provides a traveler with countless benefits that enable the trip to be more fully enjoyed.  You’ll save money, since you often won’t need to check luggage and pay extra baggage fees (more money to spend on food or treats in your trip destination). You’ll take care of some spring cleaning on your trips, as you’ll rid yourself of older clothing as you go.  Your suitcase will end up with more space as you travel, making it way less stressful to grab that extra souvenir or splurge on a larger item to take home.

By following the tips outlined above, you’ll be a leaner, meaner traveler, and will feel lighter and freer as a result.  That feeling of being streamlined and uncluttered will leave you more relaxed and ready to face whatever adventures lie ahead.  And that, my friend, is the state of mind all travelers should aim for.

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